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Life at the End of a Chain

By Judith Fish, M.S.W.

Thousands of dogs in South Florida and throughout the country are sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility for parole. These dogs have done nothing wrong and have never committed a crime. Yet they're subjected to a punishment worse than death - life at the end of a chain. Many of these dogs are chained up 24/7 and some remain incarcerated like this for their entire lives. Most of these dogs have never been for a walk nor played a game of fetch. They have never enjoyed a ride in a car, and have never known a moment of love.

Dogs are pack animals and possess a strong need for social interaction. The cruelest thing you can do to a dog is to force him into solitary confinement. I find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would acquire a dog and then choose to ignore the animal for the rest of his life. You would not banish your human family member to the backyard or the garage for life, so why would you do this to your canine family member. Dogs are members of the family, too, and in some cases they are the nicest ones. Dogs are loyal, patient, affectionate and sensitive. They are non-judgmental and provide unconditional love, something most humans are unable to do. They are always there for you, yet millions of American families are not always there for them. Dogs do so many things for humans. They rescue them in disasters; they sniff for bombs, so humans will be safe. They lead the blind, assist the police and help heal the sick. It is time we help them!

Animals experience the same feelings that humans do such as pain, fear, joy and sadness. Dogs chained for extended periods of time suffer from immense psychological damage. Some bark incessantly out of frustration, loneliness and boredom. Others become depressed, sad or withdrawn. And many develop aggressive behavior.

According to a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association many fatal attacks and numerous dog bites involve animals who have been restrained. The Humane Society of the United States reports that dogs forced to live on a chain are defenseless against other animals that enter their territory. They are often subjected to harassment and teasing from insensitive humans and they are easy targets for thieves looking to steal animals for medical research. Further, many tethered dogs often strangle to death on their chains and others have been found with chains embedded in their necks, as a result of years of neglect.

Aside from the severe emotional and social deprivation these animals experience, they also suffer from exposure to extreme temperatures, medical neglect, dehydration, and parasite infestation. Many dogs are forced to eat, sleep and deposit their own waste in a single confined area. In addition, some chained dogs are used for dog fighting, an activity usually associated with other criminal behavior. And contrary to popular opinion, chained dogs do not make good watchdogs. Dogs instinctively protect their own territory, which in this case, is their yard, not the house where they are never invited.

Chaining a dog 24 hours a day is simply cruel and barbaric. It is unacceptable treatment for man's (and woman's) best friend and it should be abolished. Thankfully at least 25 communities have recently passed laws that restrict or prohibit the practice of tethering animals, including Okaloosa County, Florida. Dennis Fetko, Ph.D., summed up the situation best when he said, " An outside dog has an address, not a home."

It is time for all of us to take action to help our best friends so they don't have to live their entire lives at the end of a chain. Encourage your neighbors to bring their family member inside. Offer to take their dog for a walk. Educate them about the animal's needs and about the dangers of keeping a tethered dog. And check and make sure their dog has ready access to food, shelter and water. If they are not providing these basics, then call the local police or animal control. And consider approaching your local legislators about enacting a law in your community that prohibits this barbaric practice.